Books make me happy, and I've shared that love with my two kids, ages 5 and 7. Although my oldest son is autistic and doesn't talk, he loves Dr. Seuss, Fly Guy, Frog and Toad, and the Magic Tree House series. These stories are delightful, but I also love when what we read reflects my kids' lives, quirks, and differences. As such, I'm always on the lookout for positive, affirming stories about kids being accepted for who they are, no strings attached.
The six picture books below—all coming out in 2016—tell exactly those sorts of stories. I love them, both my kids love them (that's my youngest son reading a few recently), and I highly recommend all of them for kids with special needs, their siblings, their friends, their classmates, and everyone else in between.
By: Salina Yoon
Available: January 5, 2016
Be a Friend is the sweet story of Dennis, "an ordinary boy...who expressed himself in extraordinary ways." Dennis doesn't talk, preferring to mime, and he's lonely until a friend named Joy comes along. Since my son doesn't talk, this book really resonated with everyone in our house, and we all cheered when Dennis found a friend who didn't need words and who "saw the world in the same way" as he did. Be a Friend is ideal for any child who feels different, and it's also a wonderful tool for promoting empathy and friendship among kids.
By: Jennifer Holm & Matthew Holm
Available: January 26, 2016
I'm Grumpy and I'm Sunny are part of the "My First Comics" series. In these books, kids are introduced to the format of reading comics and the characters Sunny, Grumpy Cloud, and Tizzy Tornado. These comics are about working through emotions, understanding how our actions affect others, and reconnecting after a storm. My kids love the bright colors and sound effect words (Splat! Drip! Kaboom!); I used the comic format to have my kids work on first-then sequencing; and we have done lots of talking about feelings—both theirs and other peoples'—as we read these stories. Although these are board books, they're perfect for autistic kids of all ages who might have trouble reading facial expressions and for any other children who struggle to articulate their feelings.
By: Melanie Walsh
Available: March 22, 2016
I was nervous when I first read the title of this book—because too often autistic kids are flippantly promoted as having superpowers—but Isaac and His Amazing Asperger Superpowers pleasantly surprised me. It's narrated by Isaac, a boy with Aspergers who can remember lots of fun facts but struggles with ordinary challenges like making eye contact, understanding certain jokes, saying inappropriate things, and dealing with sensory overload. Eventually, Isaac reveals, "I'm not really a superhero...[and] my brain works a little differently." What I love about this book—with its strong message of accepting neurodiversity— is that Isaac's speaking for himself and no one tries to change him. He's not forced to make eye contact or being told he can't fidget in class, rather, he's given strategies for success that don't make being autistic seem like a bad thing. Also, of course, my boys love this book because it's about superheroes and two brothers who like to play together. This is a great story for autistic kids, their siblings, peers, and any parent who wants to teach their kids to celebrate neurodiversity.
By: Sam Zuppardi
Available: April 26, 2016
Poor Jack—he's got a trumpet concert coming up, but on the morning of the big day, he wakes with a blobby blue Worry beside him. All day, the Worry literally follows him like a puppy, growing larger and larger until it's so huge, Jack explodes in frustration, only calming with the help of his mom. As we read Jack's Worry, my youngest son studied the personification of the Worry intently, and we talked a lot about what worried him and how to overcome those feelings. Likewise, when reading this book to my autistic son, we talked about how being overwhelmed is like a worry, and how things like sensory overload might make him explode with frustration too. This is a fantastic book for kids who struggle with anxiety or sensory issues, as they'll see a reflection of their own challenges in Jack's battle with the worry; and, parents will like it too, as it opens pathways to important conversations about handling anxiety and worries.
By: Cindy Jenson-Elliott and Illustrated by Christy Hale
Available: September 6, 2016
I had no idea Ansel Adams— the photographer responsible for iconic shots of Yosemite that have hung on my wall for years— struggled with ADHD as a child. Antsy Ansel has a lot of great takeaways, but what my kids really connected with was the idea of a boy who couldn't sit still, whose thoughts raced, and who was happiest when he was outside. This book let us talk about how much we love being outside, and it reinforced one of my strongest beliefs as a parent to a child with special needs: our kids are capable of so much, and if we can help them find their passion and immerse them in it, who knows what the future holds. Antsy Ansel is great for kids with ADHD, kids on the autism spectrum, and for kids with other special needs who love being outside and who dream big.
Although you might have to wait a few months for some of these books (pre-order them at the title links in this post), it's worth the wait. I think you and your kids will love these stories too, and I hope you share them far and wide to promote acceptance for kids of all abilities.